December is a critics designated month to moan and whine about the mediocrity of the years movies. Its often true, and for sure a year studded with masterpieces has yet to happen in my lifetime. Mostly, though, our kvetching has to do with end-of-year fatigue and the inevitable hazard of a critics life combing through bushels of chaff for a handful of wheat. As for me, Im not going to complain about a year in which my runners-up outnumber my 10 best, in which terrific documentaries abound, and in which great performances exceed the space I have to acknowledge them. Here are my best of the year, in no particular order.
Prisoner of Paradise
Since Otar Left
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Honorable Mention: Sideways, Last Life in the Universe, Moolaadé, The Sea Inside, Springtime in a Small Town, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Maria Full of Grace, Enduring Love, Hiding and Seeking, Bang Rajan, Shrek 2, The Yes Men, Bright Leaves, The Inheritance, My Architect, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, Almost Peaceful, Chisholm 72, Born Into Brothels, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Farmingville, Untold Scandal
Best Re-Release: The Battle of Algiers
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Great Performances: Rhys Ifans as the sinister, pitiful psychotic threatening Daniel Craig in Enduring Love; Julie Delpy, adorably neurotic, verbose and improvising with mad brilliance in Before Sunset; Laura Linney, who walks away with Kinsey as the randy scientists devoted, long-suffering wife; Laura Dern, who walks away with We Dont Live Here Any More as Mark Ruffalos devoted, long-suffering wife; Jeff Bridges as a bereaved father in fully denied agony in The Door in the Floor; Ivan Dobronravov as a boy torn between love and hatred for his absentee father in The Return; Fenella Woolgar as a poor little rich girl in Bright Young Things; Louis Kahn, Jonathan Caouette and Aileen Wuornos, all being their multiple selves in, respectively, My Architect, Tarnation and Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer; Gong Li as two women in love in Zhou Yus Train; Catalina Sandina Moreno as a naive drug mule in Maria Full of Grace; Carl Reiner as the old duffer out of retirement yet again and bluffing away in Oceans Twelve; Hilary Swank, intense but underplaying a role that could so easily have been overdone, plus Morgan Freeman, speaking volumes barely audibly, in Million Dollar Baby; Eddie Marsan, wonderfully low-key as the nervous prospective son-in-law to the excellent Imelda Staunton, in the otherwise unimpressive Vera Drake; Freddie Highmore as the reluctant model for Peter Pan in Finding Neverland; Javier Bardem, giving his all from the neck up, and Mabel Rivera as his devoted sister-in-law, in The Sea Inside; Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe as the radiant African pilgrim encountering Israel, warts and all, in James Journey to Jerusalem; Billy Crudup, a dainty little darling in Stage Beauty; Dinara Drukarova and Esther Gorintin as a determined granddaughter and her crafty grandmother in Since Otar Left; and last but by no means least, Bridget Jones Big Underpants, as very much appreciated by Hugh Grant.
Cutest couples: Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin in I ♥ Huckabees; Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in Collateral; Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church in Sideways; Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset; Nicole Kidman and little Cameron Bright, sharing a bath in Birth.
SPECIAL AWARD FROM THE SOCIETY FOR THE PRESERVATION OF SADOMASOCHISM: The Passion of the Christ.
AND REMEMBER: Forget The Alamo.